Everyone has comfort foods.
Food memories and mood associations are deeply implanted in the more primitive region of our highly sophisticated brains. Of course it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact origin and specific link to these particular foods but the general idea is that they go way back in our memory and are typically associated with warm and fuzzy feelings such as safety, comfort and love, and often include references to meaningful people, places or events. Food that is tasty and is reminiscent of the good-old-days, including special occasions and holidays. Traditional comfort foods include chicken soup (for the soul?), steaming hot chocolate, and tea and homemade pie. My ultimate comfort foods include: mac and cheese (baked and cheesy, not KD), cookie dough batter, and a freshly-baked gooey sticky cinnamon bun and coffee. Heaven.
I’m a huge sucker for carbs. It’s interesting; I have been a vegetarian since teenage hood. Just to be clear, I am a vegetarian by choice; I do not want to eat meat and therefore am not ever tempted to do so. Furthermore, I have not intentionally influenced my kids to be vegetarian; that is their choice to make. Sure, I enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables prepared in attractive ways. But really, I would prefer hard-core carbs on any day. Almost all of my favourite snacks are carbs including muffins, granola, popcorn and nachos. My ideal mains include pasta and bread topped with almost anything.
As far as I am concerned, a salad is not even worthwhile without a toasted bagel or buttered toast. And ordering a salad with no dressing is just ridiculous. Just saying.
My husband is definitely an accomplice. I’m not saying he is actually to blame for my food indulgences, but he is always a willing partner. We certainly spend a lot of time together talking about food, buying and preparing food, family meals and eating together in restaurants. During our travels in particular, we are very food-focused. We simply cannot overlook the food factor of any vacation
We definitely enjoy eating in restaurants but not because we don’t like cooking. Food preparation at home gets redundant especially since I almost never follow recipes. To prepare a “happy” meal for our family of five that includes three courses that each member enjoys translates into roughly 12 choices. (This does not include buffet beverage selection.). Like many families, we tend to return to the same restaurants over and over yet are delighted when we add a new restaurant to the repertoire. Sometimes getting the group to agree on a restaurant can be somewhat of an ordeal ─ rarely is there a consensus.
Over the years, by osmosis I guess, I have picked up a few cooking tips from my mother. For example my chicken soup, pea soup and cabbage soup are variations on her originals, which were likely variations on her mother’s originals, and so on. Generally, my cooking is not limited to vegetarian recipes however given a choice; I often opt for the vegetarian variant. (FYI- recipe is a euphemism because in fact I almost never follow recipes, hence my unpredictable cooking results.) All of my soups are vegetarian with the exception of Friday night chicken soup with matzo balls. Fortunately, I have a live-in taster ─ enter S. He knows the routine: “salt, pepper, sugar, dill?” Actually, there is a lot before-dinner-tasting and often the large pot is nearly drained of liquid by dinner time. He is not the only culprit. We have a lot of picking and munching.
Over the years, my culinary repertoire has expanded to include gastronomic favourites for each kid. Most recently, I prepare my signiature salad dressing for Z to take with her to university. Actually, both uni kids get individually prepared campus food deliveries every so often and in particular during exam season.
Baking is another story. I am a very unreliable baker because I never follow recipes properly. In fact, often I realize midway through the process that I am missing crucial ingredients. In response, my husband has taken up baking, indeed well suited to his character because he is meticulous and regimented. He makes a delicious apple cinnamon cake and yummy apple granola crumb; I don’t think he has ventured beyond the apple zone.
Over the years, I have taken to following a few classic recipes of baked goods including zucchini nut bread and gooey granola bites. Otherwise I stick to Pillsbury dough chocolate chip cookies ─ always a success.
Oh, I bake fresh challah bread from Montreal Kosher bought from frozen. Mmm…they are delicious when eaten directly from the oven; everyone loves them.
As in any family kitchen, favourite foods and preferred meal menus come and go. Nutrition, eating habits, appetites, diets and ambiance evolve with time and trends but family (dinner) meals are a firm tradition: no TV, no toys, no newspapers, and no phones (that sometimes presents a challenge). There is absolutely no dress code in effect. (No visual required.) Often our most animated family discussions and heated family feuds happen alongside epicurean delights around the kitchen table. We invariably discuss, reminisce, argue, tease, debate, gossip, celebrate, laugh, cry, scream, swear and through it all, we eat as a family. Friends and relatives are always welcome to join the fun and the feast. Come for a snack, stay for a meal.
The point is clear: for better or worse, food is a central feature of my identity, my family life, my birthright, and my heritage.
Flavour, food and family are intricately linked; undeniably, the prevalent foodie culture permeates my psyche, my family-of-origin, my nuclear family and my community. Sometimes, I wonder about the all too familiar adage: “You are what you eat”. What does that make me? I confess; I am a self-proclaimed gourmand, aka foodie-moodie.
Note to self: possible future creative ifoodie project ─ ifoodie blogging?! Food blogging, Tumblr, Pin it and food porn are tantalizing and entertaining rainy day foodie activities. A great photograph can really stimulate the senses and stir a craving. #FoodFantasy. The possibilities for virtual food / cuisine innovation are endless. Honestly, I am getting hungry just thinking about it. There must be an app beyond Instagram for personal food fetish. Instayummy. Insta-appetite. Instafeast. Snapsnack?
Liz Pearl, M.Ed., is an educator and therapist with a particular interest in psychogeriatrics and expressive arts therapy. She is the founder of PK Press and the editor of several collections of personal narratives including: Mourning Has Broken – A Collection of Creative Writing about Grief and Healing (KOPE Associates, 2004, 2007, 2015) Brain Attack – The Journey Back – A Unique Collection of Creative Writing about Stroke Recovery (KOPE Associates, 2005), My Story – A Collection of Inspirational Voices about Living with Multiple Sclerosis (PK Press, 2012) and the Living Legacies series including, Volumes I – IV (PK Press, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014). Liz lives in Toronto with her family. Her immediate goals include streamlining her Pearls of Wisdom and social networking nonsense into a succinct blog and adjusting to the looming empty-nest stage. Visit www.PKPress.ca or follow www.facebook.com/PKPress.